By Steven Cong
Northwest Asian Weekly
“This dinner is not a town hall meeting,” joked Assunta Ng, founder of the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation, the event’s organizer, referring to the celebration dinner held at the House of Hong on Dec. 4 honoring Dow Constantine, Martha Choe, Lloyd Hara, Mike McGinn, John Okamoto, and Betty Patu. They were named the 2009 Top Contributors to the Asian Community by the Northwest Asian Weekly. This year’s theme was “Diversity at the Top.”
The laughter during the start of the ceremony set the stage for a lively event attended by influential community members such as community activist Roberto Maestas. The night seemed to be a family affair as the parents of Constantine, Okazaki, and KOMO News Anchor Mary Nam attended. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s former campaign manager was also at the event.
As the honorees stood up to be recognized, they were acknowledge with an applause. Many of the guests stood up as well to congratulate them on their achievements. This event was the first time McGinn and Constantine have been together in the ID since the November election.
FOX Q13 anchor Lara Yamada, master of ceremonies for the event, thanked some of the guests before dinner was served. She pointed out that the meal had a few vegetarian dishes, as new King County Executive Dow Constantine is a vegetarian.
The atmosphere became energetic as people enjoyed their meals. Some guests went on to greet those in attendance. Conversations were taking place all across the House of Hong.
Seattle Mayor-elect Mike McGinn was the first one on stage, followed by the Seattle School Board Director of District 7 Betty Patu, King County Assessor Lloyd Hara, Chief Administrative Officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Martha Choe, Executive Director of the Washington Education Association John Okamoto, and Dow Constantine. In addition to plaques, the honorees were also presented with paintings by local artists Long Gao, Aki Sogabe, and Z.Z. Wei.
Each honoree shared their insights. Some gave advice on pushing for progress in the community. “I think a neighborhood-friendly city and international repute go together,” said McGinn, who stressed the importance of community. “We have to work with the people here, support the people here, and work on their dreams and aspirations.”
Patu focused on education as a means to gain progress. “Our assumption is that schools will take care of our kids. That’s not happening,” said Patu. “If you spend one day out of your week just to see what your child is doing … it will make a difference.”
Okamato echoed her sentiments. “If we find some challenging teachers,” he said, “we should come alongside them, we should coach them, [and] we should mentor them. We should find their unique gifts and talents.”
Yamada asked Choe to give some advice for husbands of strong-willed women. “Get over it, and welcome to the twenty-first century.” Choe’s response garnered laughter.
Other honorees chose to talk about what they do. They all showed a passion for their careers. “You have to be … an explorer,” said Hara. “It’s like a new adventure every day.”
Many of the honorees credited their success to others in the community. They described some characteristics of the people that had helped them to succeed.
“I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am,” said Choe.
“I have really been privileged to have many, many outstanding leaders to work with. What they have taught me is to be committed to public service, and to make a difference in the world,” said Okamoto.
When asked about his favorite teachers and what they were like, Okamoto said, “They were the ones who saw something special in me that I didn’t particularly notice.”
Constantine had a few words to say as well. The new King County Executive was clear about what he believed would produce progress in the greater Seattle area.
“It’s really important for young people to be engaged in their community,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of trade with the Asian community. He attributed that to its “ability to be united.”
As the night came to a close, there were many smiling faces that exited the doors of the House of Hong.
“After being away for a couple of years, I’m very glad to be back in Seattle and participate in such an inspiring community celebration,” said one of the event’s planning committee members, Ador Yano.
“Diverse leadership is not just wished for here but actively promoted, made real, and then recognized. Last Friday night … the Seattle Asian community honored achievement and also enhanced possibilities for leadership.”
“It was gratifying to see so many guests representing the diversity of communities in our area, particularly the show of support and encouragement for our newly elected public officials, who we trust will, in turn, appoint a diversity of representatives to positions in their respective administrations,” said attendee Justin Simmons, president of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. ♦
Steven Cong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.